Despite celebrating it’s 5th anniversary this year, there’s a good chance you haven’t heard of Meadows in the Mountains. Set in the Bulgarian mountains, and with an emphasis on good people, this intimate festival provides an experience unlike any other. Meadows started as a small party hosted by Damien and Benji Sasse in the Bulgarian village their parents had moved to. It has since expanded to cater to a larger (but still tiny) crowd of around 850, all of whom are made to feel like welcome guests of the Sasse family. The atmosphere is what makes this festival so different to corporate, profit-driven events, and it’s something the Meadows team are keen to uphold. ‘MITM is made by the people that attend; not the exquisite line up that is presented to you.’ These words, as advertised on the festival’s Facebook page, truly represent the nature and ethos of the Sasse’s vision.
Nestled amongst the trees in the secluded mountains of Polkovnik Serafimovo lies the magical Meadows in the Mountains site. To get there you can hop in the back of a local’s Suzuki or venture up the rocky track by foot. (In the blazing heat it is always preferable to do the former). The festival site is appropriately small; big enough to offer places to explore, but small enough that you don’t leave feeling you’ve missed out. The two main stages, Sunrise and Sunset, reinforce the festival’s focus on nature, and music is showcased in accordance with the movements of the sun. ‘Me ‘Appy Place’ offered a variety of workshops, hula hooping and dreamcatcher crafting included. Over at ‘Home’, the ‘holistic healing space’, the geo-dome played host to workshops in yoga and tai chi, with massages and chai tea on offer just around the corner.
The Sunset Stage is the first to greet you on entering the festival, showcasing live music from the early afternoon past sunset, late into the evening. Italian jazz extraordinaire, Mop Mop was joined by Wayne Snow as the sun went down on Saturday, while highlights from Sunday included Kele Le Roc, UK Garage and R&B legend, who’s upbeat rendition of 90s classic ‘My Love’ accompanied the festival’s final sunset. After sundown, the mood got suitably darker, and Sunday night saw Mauritian-born Mo Kolours take to the stage. Delivering a live fusion of Hip Hop, Soul, Dub and Electronic elements, Kolours’ performance was a testament to his musical knowledge and skill. It’s difficult to put his sound into a box, and what’s the point? It’s captivating, soulful and refreshingly alternative. ‘Little Brown Dog’ was a crowd favourite, his mellow vocals cutting through broken dub beats and steel drums.
The Sunrise stage on the other side of the festival boasted a lineup of (predominantly House) DJs. Aptly, it also became the backdrop for the ritualistic viewing of the sunrise. Gathered on the hill together, every festival-goer united for this magical experience. Nothing could have prepared me for the sheer beauty of the view, and I doubt any photo could do it justice. Accompanying the ethereal sunrise on Friday was Quantic’s soundtrack of funk, soul and house. Other highlights included Al Dobson Jr. and Jane Fitz, who played in the early hours of Monday morning.
It was Marques Toliver who stole the show, though, flaunting his angelic voice, heavenly body and (very) short shorts multiple times throughout the festival. Simplicity ruled at his first performance against the mountainous backdrop at ‘Me ‘Appy Place’, showing what magic could be made by one man and his violin. His second performance at the Sunset stage on Saturday was equally beautiful, and joined by a band and a backing track, Toliver showcased his diverse musical ability. Whether it’s his enthusiasm, eccentricity or his humour, the man certainly knows how to work a crowd and no doubt made his mark on every attendee he crossed paths with.
Like Toliver, many artists became familiar faces by the end of the weekend, staying to experience the delights that Meadows has to offer. This really is testament to the family vibe the team have succeeded in creating. With no VIP or exclusive treatment, Meadows is a place where everyone is equal. Every aspect of the experience reinforces the festival’s ethos of ‘friends, family, love, music, art and nature’, and a sense of togetherness is felt strongly from the moment of arrival. There’s so much more to Meadows than the music — the atmosphere, the people and the setting are what make the festival a truly unique experience. I was overwhelmed not only by the generosity and kindness of the villagers, who accommodated us in their homes, but also slightly taken aback by the friendliness of the (predominantly British) punters too. Not an ounce of hostility was felt anywhere, and we were made to feel truly welcome in Polkovnik Serafimovo: we spent our mornings swimming in the natural pool at Lydia’s house, and went for dinner at Maria’s. Beautiful and remote, the festival’s setting in the Rhodopean mountains makes Meadows as much an opportunity for an idyllic retreat as it does a festival. There’s no question about it, we’ll be returning next year.
Photos: Jack Pasco